3) Matters of ‘quality’ – assertions concerning improved quality through processes of reflection were not always obvious in non-comparative performance situations. But questions concerning the nature of what constitutes quality in performance became a major concern of the group, and in particular, the group leader [link to Håkon Austbø s article on ‘Quality’]. Putting aside the complex nature of any discourse on ‘quality’ (Pirsig 1974), the project was often caught in a bind concerning “which” quality was being evaluated: research quality or performance quality.
Despite the difficulties, with respect to what is needed within the current conservatoire model and, specifically, in relation to explorations of the ‘standard’ repertoire – classical, romantic and early twentieth century canonical works - the project’s focus has been of profound importance. The questions raised within this repertoire, and the necessity of sharing the experience of ‘difference’ (between ‘informed performances’ and others) have pointed up the need both for new attitudes by, and towards, audiences and for new kinds of research paradigms.
Research in a conservatoire:
The types of culture clash between research-oriented and artistic endeavours – especially in the ‘marketplace’ of the public concert – that were discussed above are echoed within the curricula of the conservatoires that feed the profession. While higher music education should remain a protected space for developing unorthodox and original approaches to musical performance and composition, the stresses of market concerns in all their forms increasingly colour the nature of such education. Conservatoire education is supposed to prepare its participants for professional life – whatever such a life might entail. As future musical interpreters, conservatoire students should develop a sophisticated sense of what interpretation is; yet, it still remains the case that the theories around interpretation are generally formed not in conservatoires, but in universities, and in a manner set apart from those for whom interpretation is integral to their practice. More than a decade of artistic research work taking place in conservatoires has not definitively remedied this rhetorical gap.
Take, for example, the notion of the score as ‘embodying the composer’s intentions’. Taken literally, this idea is read as an impossibility, and therefore an outmoded and absurd construction. But the shorthand use of this phrase within the musical practice of conservatoires does contain meanings that potentially have merit: the stretching out of imagination beyond the limits of the self through the signs of the score; the notion of the score as communicative tool; the idea that the score can convey both musical material and aspects of its historicity, and the sense of the score as being a thing of value in itself, whether sounded or not. Unduly dismissive attitudes towards an admittedly potentially naïve faith in the power of the score, or rejection of the intrusion of questions of method into a theoretical discourse, can sometimes nullify creative research potential within conservatoires. This is unfortunate, since some of the most novel questions will come from the practitioners who are also able to realise their art to a high level.
How practitioners interpret interpretation:
Practitioners are not short of views on these subjects; what they often lack is a suitable channel through which to express and disseminate them. This is where the symposium came in. Its format and approach was deliberately open. Contributors were free to use the framework of the symposium to express themselves in whatever way felt most comfortable to them. They did so without prior reference to each other’s viewpoints and the symposium itself became the forum in which ideas and actions came together and interacted.
As a complement to the symposium itself, this written document serves both to record the event and, in keeping with the spirit of the project itself, to reflect upon what was said and presented and order some of this material under thematic strands that highlight the interaction of ideas.
The reflections of the participants:
The following section consists of extracts from those who participated in the Symposium. These range across methods drawn from personal approaches, statements of belief or manifestos, and meta-theories concerning interpretation. The statements do not, in themselves, articulate a unified set of views, but rather a constellation of notions around interpretation whose strength is in their diversity. This, in turn, gives a sense of the cultural milieu around interpretation, as this concept is understood within the specific environment of NMH.
1) Personal insights and methods
In my artistic research project This is Not a Drum: Towards a Post-Percussive Practice (undertaken at the Norwegian Academy of Music from 2010-2014), I was interested in rethinking fundamental habits of interpretation, beyond conventional, literal faithfulness to the musical text (Texttreue). Through four case studies of older works, some of them iconic New Music works, (Helmut Lachenman’s Pression, for solo cello (1969); Brian Ferneyhough’s Bone Alphabet (1991), for solo percussion; Vinko Globokar’s Toucher (1973) for speaking performer; Michael Pisaro’s Ricefall (2004), for falling rice on objects, I applied a concept of multiple interpretations of single works, desiring to expand each interpretation beyond the micro-levels of the musical notation.
Questioning the historical, sealed work concept, I suggested alternative models of performing the works I selected in the hope of throwing new light on their musical potential. Whilst departing from both analytical and intuitive perspectives, following ideas that had resulted from years of performing these works as well as listening to their recorded history, I was particularly interested in taking interpretational liberties that seemed entirely speculative, but which were rooted in informed readings of the material itself. This work included rewriting the musical scores, altering form and instrumentations, as well as stylistic transcriptions.
True interpretations should be the result of deep penetration into the work in question, and not of speculation as to its likely success or acceptance by the public, critics and agents or of subservience to conventions established by some tradition.
For me, analysis has always been at the core of this process of penetration, but I have constantly been refining my tools in order to uncover the structural forces at play in the music and to gain insights into what drove the composer to write the work. This process is primarily an intellectual one but, if well conducted, it will unleash hidden emotional forces and thus elevate the work within me.
The work I have undertaken as part of The Reflective Musician project has, if anything, deepened my understanding of how analysis may inform interpretation. It has also made me more convinced than ever that this is a process that is, in essence, co-creative.
I remember very well when I first became aware of the implications and potential of the concept of interpretation. At that point I had already been playing the piano for many years. However, my interpretative ‘moment of truth’ occurred when I was some 9 years old and about to perform [recite] Henrik Wergeland’s poem, Til min Gyldenlak (To my Wallflower, Erysimum cheiri) before my classmates and our parents. The poem from Wergeland’s Deathbed Suite is as such firmly situated in the realm of romantic idealism, and is indeed very touching. Nevertheless, preparing it for performance, pronuntiatio, taught me a basically twofold, epoch-making lesson: Firstly, that reality is not singular, and that you may make up and constitute new realities solely by the power of performance. Wergeland’s poem took on, or should I say induced, widely different meanings and emotional contents according to my – or anyone’s – recitation. Thus, my ‘interpretive turn’ coincided with my ‘performative turn’.
But the second wisdom to extract from the experience was just as important, namely that interpretation – in this context close to the traditional hermeneutical meaning upon encountering the written text – proved to be a tool for penetrating beyond the surface level, carving out or elucidating aspects, facets, contents and depths, as it felt, that are not obvious or immediately grasped.
The first wisdom has a constructionist bend, the second somewhat an essentialist one. To me, the concept of interpretation then seemed to be the impetus behind a horizontal and a vertical movement respectively: One distributive, vouching for pluralism, and one centripetal, vouching for possible unity at a deeper level…
The pursuit of interpretation is probably a pursuit of relevance and, at that, a relevance transcending two opposite dogmatisms: 1) claiming that all utterances are equally interesting simply by virtue of being performed, and 2) clinging to singularities, e.g. those reflected in the search for a monolithic and exclusive truth deep down inside an art work.
2) Statements of beliefs, manifestos
Christian Eggen: ‘Right’ objectives for interpreters (after Constantin Stanislavski: An Actor Prepares, 1936/2013).
1. As an interpreter, you must be firmly situated on ‘our side of the footlights’. In other words, your primary impulse should be directed toward the music or the other musicians, and not towards the listeners from the perspective of ‘crowd-pleasing’.
2. The interpretations you create should spring from personal experience and yet be appropriate, in a way that can resonate for everybody, to the music being played.
3. They must focus on creative and the artistic aspects, because their function should be to fulfil the main purpose of our art: to penetrate the soul of the work and render it in artistic form.
4. They should be real, live, and human; not dead, conventional, or theatrical.
5. They should be truthful so that you yourself, the musicians playing with you, and your audience can all believe in them.
6. They should have the quality of attracting and moving both the other participants and the listeners; to do this, they should first move you.
7. They must be clear-cut and characteristic of the music you are playing. They must tolerate no vagueness. They must be distinctly woven into the fabric of the composition.
8. They should have value and content, corresponding to the inner body of the work. They must not be shallow, or skim along the surface.
9. They should be active, pushing the music ahead and not letting it stagnate.
Nils Henrik Asheim:
1 - Music is never only music -
First, there is the score. Then, there is the knowledge about how, historically, the music was meant to be played. This, in turn, is enriched but also confused by new knowledge of how the music was understood in later periods.
But then there is the issue of music being used for a purpose - to impress, to please, to confirm, to organize people. And finally, there is music itself as action, a body, the arm with the violin bow, a person acting towards another. In all these ways, music has already left the score.
2 - Music is never perfect -
There are trivialities in masterworks, gaps that needed to be filled just to keep the musical structure. There are passages that are not important at all, because something important will follow.
And then, there are the shortcuts in the writing, the easy solutions because of time pressures. There are the restrictions upon the composer: the availability and limitations of instruments, the conventions of the public. And no score is the ideal one.
3 - Music is never one truth -
Each note in a composition is the result of a subjective choice. Every new note is a bifurcation. To us, after hundred years, the work seems untouchable, predestined.
But it is our repeated listening that betrays us. The 600 pages of sketches to Beethoven's opus 131 could accidentally have stopped at number 200. And we would still see the piece as his final message, mistaken for absolute truth.
4 - Music is never alone -
In every piece of music there are echoes of others. Within academic styles, there are popular idioms; within the avant-garde there is archaism. There is music of the North and of the South, music flowing with and flowing against. And all exist in the same water, no music is alone.
All this points towards multiple readings of music, which should lead to multiple interpretations. For me, it often leads to re-composing.
I am working hard to understand my own position in relation to old music. It is almost like trying to remember a dream when one has awoken. I need to find unusual ways to enter the composer's space, before he shuts the book. And in this tiny moment of light, I will try to do something really precise.
Tor Espen Aspaas
(ANTI)CREDO, a statement on interpretation
Why does the challenge of articulating an individual statement on interpretation cause me to think in dichotomies? Why is my primary impulse to consider the negative ends of its polarizations: to think about what interpretation is not and what it should not be?
This tendency might stem from feeling increasingly ill-at-ease with the status quo of today’s communicative and curatorial practices – or the lack of such practices. To quote the Bard: “Ay, there’s the rub” – lack thereof… Hence the negatives.
I identify the main problem to be the primacy of a monologue-based definition of interpretation, a residue of logocentric ideas from the Romantic era, increasingly distorted with time. This definition establishes a one-direction, top-to-bottom hierarchy that implies a constant falling-away and decay as Art flows in essence from its divine source of inspiration, via the mind of a genius, through canonical text, which is then mediated by the congenial performer before it eventually trickles down to a spectator in its most diluted form.
Few would subscribe openly to this metaphoric structure, but it still wields great power in established practices, especially within mainstream segments.
As a result, interpretation gravitates toward the reductive – the intra-subjectively centred – the uncommunicative.
Interpretation should not be reductive, limiting, finalizing. It should be open-ended, should strive for diversity and encompass work-in-progress. Interpretation should be inter- and transdisciplinary-minded; it should seek to converge and resonate with other artistic-intellectual expressions and paradigms in order to expand its domain.
Interpretation is not a private, intra-subjective, asymmetrical process.
Like practice, it is inter-subjective, situated within a network of actors on a basis of equality. The so-called audience consists of individual co-creators, not a passive mass of spectators.
If it fails to communicate, it does not merit the name of interpretation.
Interpretation is not a one-way street – it is an interplay of constantly shifting centres.
Do we, as performers, need to ‘outsource’ parts of the interpretative process?
Do we need to expand and multiply its hermeneutical circles?
I believe that interpretation vastly transcends the interpreter.
3) Broader delineations concerning the nature of interpretations (meta-theories)
1) When we appreciate a performance of music, we appreciate it because it is an interpretation (not only a reproduction). It is developed with a certain consciousness about what may be called, however problematically, the ‘essence’ of the work. That means it is not only a result of, for example, private fascinations at a certain moment. But at the same time we appreciate a performance because it transcends the notion of interpretation in terms of something self-consciously placed before us and understood in terms of straight-forward technique or method. In order to reach the ‘essence’ of the work, we need to feel that the means by which this is achieved are transparent and that only the result impinges on our consciousness.
2) The perfection, or even ‘fetishizing’ (Adorno) of interpretation is, on the one hand, a modern phenomenon, but at the same time an attempt to escape the modern discipline mechanism, the specializing differentiation (Adorno). How should we understand the role of ‘thinking’ in this?
I understand ‘interpretation’ as a conscious approach towards the musical work. The question is how to understand this particular consciousness – which is, of course, closely related to the concept of ‘thinking/reflection’ that features in the title of this project.
Ingfrid Breie Nyhus:
Interpretation as Tradition as Past and Future
Tradition is both past and future. Many folk musicians say that they seek to hold back their own ‘self’ when playing or singing a traditional tune. I have heard this described as a moving from one’s exterior face to an underlying mask, a mask within, that is a sub-layer to one’s every-day, prevailing features. These folk musicians experience that, through this, they find a voice, a position, that can integrate into the entirety of ancient voices, all those voices that have preceded one’s own, those that have slowly carried the tradition forward. The voice resides in something larger than itself.
The underlying mask resounds with all these old voices, but at the same time there are cracks – the personal breaks through, features of the individual are visible. The unique, that which represents this single human being today, fuses with the inherited. The old and the new, the universal and the subjective, commonly shared and the personal, all talk through one and the same voice. It is a continuous play of nuances between the two poles, and the performer owns the key to the balancing and shading involved…
Tradition concerns both the past and the future. It is dependent on a constant re-drafting of the material that time has carried. The new projections, and thus directions into the future, are shaped by how we as musicians choose to balance the heteroglossia of the shared elements and our own traits and choices.
The importance of context and value for research: A synthesis serving as an ‘open conclusion’: Lasse Thoresen:
Music is not a noun, it is a verb. It is a dynamic event, a process that unfolds in time and sound. Music only appears as music when this process unfolds in the presence of one or more listener. That presence must be a living presence - an act of communion rather than of communication.
The concept of interpretation is only interesting in so far as it can be separated from the work itself. In most music cultures this is not a duality in the way that it is in Western classical music - which is our context. With us, interpretation becomes a question, and a problem, because the work is rigidly fixed in a score and the composer and performer often are two different persons - perhaps even living in different times.
However, the idea of the musical work, distinct from its many performances, can also be found in oral cultures (e.g. in Norwegian folk music, there exist works with a specific title and recognizable identity independent of their realisation in performance). But when there is no notation, in between performances the work only exists in the memory of individuals; it resides in an invisible, intangible reality. Thus the performance of the work becomes the reappearing or reactivation of a pre-existing, but entirely non-manifested, entity into observable sound-in-time. Interpretation, as a separate aspect, will then be the specific way and the particular features with which this invariable memory becomes manifest on a unique occasion in historic time.
If the interpretation is closely associated with the manifestation of the memory of a work, then I will claim that the memory of the interpreter is a central agent for creating the conditions of a living presence - the criterion I mentioned above for a successful performance. In a culture of written music the performer may pass quickly from score to motor-activity on his or her instrument, bypassing memory. So memory – in the way I now am referring to it, would mean the interiorization of the work in the performer’s reflective mind; and this interorization must transcend concerns with performer-technical issues: fingerings, muscular memory of movements, etc. The musical memory must be activated in the reflective mind as a process of thinking the music as sound-in-time combined with a simultaneous awareness of the thinking process itself. The result of such a process may be a personal interpretation.
A personal interpretation is not necessarily an original interpretation. Today there is a tendency to regard a classical work as a dead object (a score, a text) that the performer will use as a springboard to promote his own individuality. I do not think that such a motivation is adequate, other than for making a career in conformity with today’s conventional trends. The opposite trend, performing the score in a neutral, even mechanical way, threatens, on the other hand, to wear out the music by associating it with stiffened ritual. More is at stake, provided that the work to be performed has an element of truth connected to it. I believe in the co-genial interpretation, one in which the energies (the dynamics, the verb) that animated the creator’s thought during the creation of the piece also animate the performer while playing. In this way the duality between the work and the creator is eliminated, and the music may reappear fresh, as if created in the very moment it is performed, in the living presence of the listener.
Borgdorff, Henk. 2012. The Conflict of the Faculties. (Leiden: Leiden University Press).
Goehr, Lydia. 2007. The Imaginary Museum of Musical Works. (Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press.
Kramer, Lawrence. 2011. Interpreting Music. (Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press).
Pirsig, Robert. 1974. Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. (London: Bodley Head).
Sontag, Susan. 1994. Against Interpretation. (London: Vintage).
Stanislavski, Constantin. 1936/2013. An Actor Prepares, translated by Elizabeth Reynolds Hapgood. (London: Theatre Arts Inc. and Bloomsbury Academic).
Thoresen, Lasse. 2015. Emergent Musical Forms. (London, Ontario: University of Western Ontario).